PEN International joins signatories on letter to Bahrain
This letter was published in the Guardian, April 9 2012
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja’s death would be a stain on Bahrain
Bahrain risks instigating a collapse of its civic society if it fails to release this respected human rights activist and hunger striker
Your Majesty, King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa,
We, the undersigned, call on the government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release leading human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, whose life is now in grave danger as he enters the 61st day of his hunger strike, begun in protest at his detention and treatment.
We call for his urgent release on humanitarian grounds, and in conformity to the findings and recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).
If Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is not released and dies in prison, the Bahrain government will signal a total failure of political will in addressing the human rights violations that occurred in 2011. This would further alienate the already fragile trust of opposition groups and instigate a dangerous collapse of civil society. Mr al-Khawaja is deeply revered and respected by much of the population of Bahrain, as well as the wider region and world. His death could dangerously inflame national tensions which are already escalating.
Mr al-Khawaja was arrested on 8 April 2011 and subjected to cruel and abusive treatment by government employees. A forensic team working for the BICI team investigated his case.
The BICI team found that his jaw was broken “immediately after the arrest” which required “major surgery” to heal. In hospital he was “blindfolded the whole time and handcuffed to the bed with tight cuffs”. He was discharged from hospital, against the recommendations of his doctor, and placed in “solitary confinement in a small cell” where “there was no fresh air”. He experienced “regular beatings at night”, sexual assault and other torture.
Mr Al-Khawaja was tried before a military tribunal and given a life sentence for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the Bahrain government. Both his trial and subsequent appeal, which was also heard before a military tribunal, have been heavily criticised by major human rights and legal organisations. The BICI further found that after he was sentenced, he was “beaten by guards”. The findings of the BICI report were also very critical of the quality of the justice Mr al-Khawaja and other political leaders received.
Recommendation 1,720 of the BICI report calls for all such military trials to be reviewed before a civilian court. Mr Al-Khawaja’s life sentence was due to be reviewed before a civilian court on 2 April 2012. However, on that day a judge postponed the review until 23 April. Mr Al-Khawaja has now been on hunger strike for 61 days. The consequent deterioration of his health means that he will likely be dead or comatose before that date.
Mr al-Khawaja began his hunger strike on 8 February 2012. He has stated that he will continue this strike until “freedom or death”. There is no question of his commitment to this stance.
If your government allows Mr al-Khawaja to die in prison, it will send a stark message that it means to ignore the most important recommendations of the BICI report. The message will spread not just across Bahrain, but internationally, to citizens and governments who have relied upon your assurances that you are committed to reform.
You have the power to release Mr al-Khawaja. It will be a stain on Bahrain if his death comes before his freedom.
In the interests of justice and reconciliation in your country, we urgently and respectfully ask you to release Mr al-Khawaja immediately and unconditionally,
The Right Honourable Lord Avebury
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Richard Burden MP
Front Line Defenders
Doctors in Chains
Professor Sajjad Rizvi (University of Exeter)
Professor Scott Lucas (University of Birmingham)
Professor F Gregory Gause III (University of Vermont)
Professor Craig Toby Jones (Rutgers University)
Professor Khaleel Mohammed (San Diego State University)
Dr Christopher Davidson (Durham University)
Dr Mike Diboll (formerly of University of Bahrain)
• This letter will be delivered to the Bahrain Embassy in London at close of business Tuesday. Anyone wishing to add a signature can do so by sending an email to: email@example.com